What We Learned: Blazers-Lakers
Greg Oden is slowly becoming more known for his injuries than on-the-court play
The Lakers' Bench Mob looks even stronger with Trevor Ariza and Lamar Odom
The Lakers will make a concerted effort to cut down Kobe and Pau's minutes
LOS ANGELES -- What we learned from the Lakers' 96-76 victory over Blazers at the Staples Center on opening night.
1. Greg Oden is officially "injury prone." Portland's prized big man had the worst possible debut he (or the Blazers) could have imagined. Forget about his dreadful final stat line: zero points on four shots, two turnovers and two fouls in 13 minutes. The Blazers would have been fine with that if Oden, who missed all of last season after having microfracture surgery on his right knee, didn't suffer a mid-foot sprain in the first quarter after coming down for a rebound against Andrew Bynum. Oden played through the injury throughout the first half, but never came out of the locker room after halftime. X-rays on his foot were inconclusive and Oden will undergo an MRI on Wednesday morning. While the severity of the injury won't be known until then, it's certainly an ominous sign for a player who has spent more time on the bench than on the court since being the No. 1 pick in last year's draft.
After the game, Oden used a pair of crutches to limp out of the locker room and into a cart that drove him to the team bus. "I wanted to play in the second half, I got taped up, but it just wasn't happening," he said. "It sucks, but I have to keep on working. Hopefully this is just a little setback, but I have no idea when I'm going to be back."
2. The paint won't be a friendly place for Lakers' opponents this season. During the 2008 NBA Finals, the Celtics drove through the paint and scored on the Lakers as if they were cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway with the top down. Unfortunately for the rest of the league, the Lakers now have Bynum, a 7-foot, 275-pound tower blocking the highway this season. Bynum made his presence felt early in the game, stuffing three shots and making it nearly impossible for the Blazers to get any baskets in the paint.
Meanwhile, a video making the rounds on the Web that shows Bynum flipping dollar bills into the crowd while celebrating his 21st birthday at a Hollywood club last weekend became a topic of conversation Tuesday. Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who said he saw the video by accident while looking at another YouTube clip sent by a friend, described it as "a kid coming out his teens and coming into adulthood." Jackson added of Bynum, "He said it was only $100 -- all ones."
3. The Bench Mob is back. The Lakers prided themselves on their "Bench Mob" last year, a group of reserves that propelled them to the Finals. With Lamar Odom moving from the starting rotation to sixth man and Trevor Ariza returning after being injured most of last season the Mob looked vastly improved. The bench tallied 46 points, led by Odom and Ariza, who combined for 20 points and nine rebounds. "They come at you in waves," said Blazers forward Channing Frye. "They beat the crap out of us tonight."
4. Expect to see less of Kobe and Pau early on. While Kobe Bryant (23 points and 11 rebounds) and Pau Gasol (15 points and seven rebounds) led the Lakers in points, rebounds and minutes played, Jackson's goal for the first month of the season is to restrict their minutes, since both Olympians got very little rest over the summer. Bryant and Gasol both played 33 minutes, numbers that would satisfy Jackson, especially with the second team playing so well. "I'm vigilant of that and the minutes will be sparse," Jackson said. "We want to keep a couple units out there and give them some rest when we can."
5. This is the beginning of the league's next big rivalry. Don't let the Blazers' opening game fool you. This could be one of the best teams in the West and may even contend for home-court advantage in the opening round. "They were a feisty team last year, and this is a team that I think will be the Hornets team of last year," Jackson said. "This team is going to be one that's going to surprise some people early on."
They certainly weren't going to surprise the Lakers, who have had their problems with the Blazers in recent years. While the season opener wasn't close, most of the Portland players chalked it up to a learning experience and the beginning of a long season.
"We have another 81 games to go, plus the playoffs. I believe we'll be there, we have hard workers here and this was a good [butt-kicking] for us," Frye said. "We're not going anywhere. We'll be back."
Blazers coach Nate McMillan believes the rivalry will once again become relevant upon Oden's return.
"This is a matchup that could go on for a long period of time," he said. "I think the league is going to look at marketing this with Bynum against Greg, LaMarcus [Aldridge] against Gasol, Kobe against Brandon Roy, the Lakers against the Blazers. They were the best in the West last year, and we want to get there this year."